Intellectual Property and the Tourism Industry

The tourism industry may not seem closely connected with intellectual property, but in fact the opposite is true, and intellectual property is a powerful tool in the tourism sector.

Tourism is a major force in international commerce, continuously growing, and a main source of income in many places around the world.

As travel becomes much more common, it’s also much more competitive. So how can a destination draw tourists? Tourists look for places to have an experience that is different from their day-to-day life. They may be attracted by scenery, culture, sports, or any other perception of a place.

This is a good reason to brand a place, associating it with this set of thoughts, feelings and impressions that come to mind when people think about it. The trademark is the essence of the particular location and what sets it apart. If successful, it not only draws more visitors, it enhances their experience.

What is destination branding?

“Destination branding” refers to creating awareness and value for a place. For example, we can look at local culture and traditions, such as jazz in New Orleans and movies in Los Angeles’s Hollywood.

To best create destination branding, a trademark is a valuable tool. Often the trademark is a logo, a catchphrase or slogan.

What IP is used in tourism?

Trademarks are essential to IP in the tourism industry. Trademarks are defined as any sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from that of another. They grant the owner exclusive use of the mark and prevent others from using it in respect to similar goods or services.

In some countries, trademarks have to be registered, while in others it’s not mandatory, although the best way is usually to register them in the relevant local register for trademarks, register them internationally, or do both.

Other IP rights can also add protection, such as copyrights.

Can you trademark a geographical term?

Many cities, regions and countries try to use IP to create differentiation and therefore value that will attract tourists. After value is created, local enterprises naturally wish to benefit as well. Generally, a geographical term can be incorporated into a multi-word mark if the name of the city or place is disclaimed, but usually not by itself as it gives exclusive rights to the name.

However, some geographical locations were trademarked.

The St. Moritz name was registered in 1986 – making it the first geographical location in the world to be trademarked, while four versions of the sun image were registered as early as 1937. See:

Other followed. For example, the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board registered its logo to prevent unauthorized use. See:

Is trademark merchandising allowed?

Tourism trademarks often restrict use of their mark, but may choose to allow businesses at destinations to make money off the location merchandise that is offered to tourists as souvenirs.

This iconic logo is trademarked. The trademark is owned by the New York State Department of Economic Development. It appears on numerous goods, in souvenir shops and brochures. The use of the trademark is often not licensed. New York has repeatedly attempted to protect its trademark. It filed thousands of trademark objections against imitators and has sent cease-and-desist letters.

What other IP tools are used in tourism?

There are 3 other main IP branding tools in tourism:

  1. Certification marks.
  2. Collective marks.
  3. Geographical indications.

Certification marks

Certification marks are used by different entities, some of them non-for-profit organizations. Those entities create a certification with criteria and logo, and lend their logo to enterprises in the tourism industry to indicate that these enterprises meet the criteria and are worthy of the certification.

The Green Globe Certification is an example of a certification mark. The Green Globe International Standard for Sustainable Tourism is a standard that all tourism eco-labels are based on. When a business adheres to the eco-tourism sustainable criteria, such as environmental standards, it is certified and subsequently authorized to apply the trademark. This adds value to the business, while promoting the issue of environment and sustainability within the tourism industry.

Here are a few more examples:









Collective marks

A collective mark refers to a trademark or service mark that identifies members of a union, cooperative, or other collective organization. Collective marks have been used in the tourism industry for marketing purposes, adding value that helps its members compete. This is especially beneficial to small and medium sized enterprises who can work in cooperation, gain awareness, and access new markets, all for a reduced cost.

Logis Hotels & Restaurants, for example, is a federation of enterprises that grouped together to offer a selection of accommodations and food options. They share a commitment to quality, tradition, hospitality and friendliness to create a valued brand of independent hotels and restaurants.


Geographical indications

Geographical indications (GI) are signs that point to a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Geographical indications strengthen tourism in a specific geographic area, either under the region’s umbrella brand or independently.

Agro-tourism around products such as wine is a growing market. For example, visiting a winery and tasting the wine at Napa Valley in California, USA is appealing thanks to the location. In Australia Hilltops region is a geographical indication for wine. See:


A special kind of GI is appellation of origin. According to WIPO, it generally consists of a geographical name or a traditional designation used on products which have a specific quality that is essentially due to the geographical location. A known appellation is Bordeaux in France, and it may be used not only for selling wine but for the touristic appeal of travelling through the wineries and tasting Bordeaux wine.

What are other available IP protections?

  1.  Design rights – Although they are not used as much, design rights can be used in the tourism industry. Industrial rights protect the shape and form of goods, but can also be applicable to two dimensional products such as textiles, which may prove to be useful in protecting logos.
  2. Copyrights – A logo, when a work of artistic creation, may be protected under copyright law. Copyright is also used as protection for promotional materials that are part of the tourism industry, as well as guide books, articles, website content and other materials.

Wiser Protection

To create value and a competitive edge, the tourism sector uses intellectual property protection, just like the goods sector.

Trademark protection is an especially important tool in the branding strategy of destinations and enterprises in the tourist industry. Together with other forms of intellectual property, they add to the tourism “product” and its competitiveness. IP rights may prove useful whether the “product” is based on landmark, nature, religion, ecology, food, wine or any other tourist attraction.

Using IP protection helps to safeguard rights, reputation and revenue in the growing tourism sector.

IP infringements today occur or are found online. Wiser Market has the technology and expertise to protect your brand online around the world, resulting in an over 90% success rate.


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